“We, as youth, have the ability to bring about radical change. We have the creativity, the passion, and the resources- If we set our minds to something (like inclusion for people of all abilities) it WILL happen.” -Special Olympics Idaho Youth Activation Council member, Kara Fleming.
Youth leadership, inclusive sports and school wide unification were on the agenda for the 2011 Youth Activation Summit (YAS) for Special Olympics Idaho. Nearly 70 youth, educators and liaisons gathered in Boise for 2 fun filled days of Project UNIFY. The youth that attended the summit are part of the Youth Activation Council, a group of young people with and without intellectual disabilities who have committed to the UNIFY vision: Promote school communities where all young people are agents of change–fostering acceptance, respect, dignity and advocacy with and for people with intellectual disabilities and, therefore, anyone who is perceived as being different.
There were 18 schools represented during the event, from Southwest and Eastern Idaho. The summit started with an overview of Special Olympics including the mission, history, and vision of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. There was discussion around the social justice component of the movement and how Special Olympics uses sports as the vehicle to foster equality and inclusion in the community and around the world. The students were empowered to present this information to their schools and peers with help from two special guest speakers. Reci Schmellick, a professional in the world of coaching public speaking, spoke to the YAS about the power of a message. Groups focused on power words they would use to describe Project UNIFY then combined them into one power sentence. Some of the examples students came up with were, “Passion for the experience makes lasting memories”, and “See you at the finish line!” Reci brought along her daughter and 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games medalist, Lauren Schmellick, to present about her world games experience in Athens.
Since sports is the platform in which Special Olympics promotes social justice, it was only fitting that there would be an inclusive sport activity at the summit. One of the youth leaders, Molly McConnell from Boise High School, introduced the sport of Bocce Ball to the group. There was information on the rules of the game and then a Bocce Ball tournament that evening. At the end of the summit two schools took home their very own Bocce Ball kits as prizes!
All of the YAS participants completed a Gallup Clifton Strength Finder or Strength Explorer inventory which looked at areas of natural strength. This information then enabled the attendees to share those strengths with each other and look at how they could employ those gifts and skills through Project UNIFY. There was discussion around filling up each other’s “buckets” and how we have the power to build people up or dip out of their buckets with our words and actions. Each participant had their own physical bucket that was left out during the YAS so people could drop words of encouragement or friendship throughout the event. Needless to say, everyone went home with a full bucket in more ways than one.
Another highlight of the summit was discussion of the Spread the Word campaign and how we have the power to use words that are not hurtful or degrading. Students put this into action by getting into groups of 3 and creating their own 3 word video. This video is now hosted on Youtube, Special Olympics Idaho’s and Project UNIFY Idaho’s Facebook pages.
The summit was based around educating, motivating and activating students around the Project UNIFY vision and ended with schools creating their own YACtion Plans to take back for the remainder of the school year. Eunice Kennedy Shriver best described the importance of empowering not only individuals with intellectual disabilities, but youth as agents of change; “As we ask for the best in them, hope is reborn in us.”
For information on ways to get involved, please contact Shanna at firstname.lastname@example.org or 208.724.1717. Be a Fan!